Some people love cooking dinner from scratch every night. They find it relaxing or think it’s the only way to get healthy food or something.
I am not one of those people. I was raised by an apocalypse-prepper father and a mother who stopped loving cooking shortly before getting me, and so I am going to let you into the secret to happiness: batch freezing food.
Having a large variety of batch frozen food means that you’re always only about 15 minutes away from being able to have a delicious hot dinner. It’s also an easier way to prepare meals for older relatives and friends and family members with fresh children.
This is, of course, easiest if you have a large chest freezer and an impressive collection of Tupperware. But you can make do with a standard freezer.
Some foods freeze better than others – pasta sauces, soups, many types of curry, and dumplings freeze super well. It’s best to avoid including large chunks of anything that absorbs a lot of water, like potatoes. If you’re freezing a soup that’s made with stock powder, you can just put in half the water, and then defrost it in a pot with extra water when you’re going to eat it to save on freezer space.
Also, and I cannot stress this enough, make sure you make the recipe on a smaller scale before you freeze it, just in case you don’t like it. There is nothing worse than making 20 litres of something and only then discovering it’s just not your jam. Trust me.
When it comes to batch freezing, you can go as fancy or as lazy as you like. Acknowledge that just cooking at all when you have the emotional load of the pandemic plus whatever else is going on in your life is impressive, and forgive yourself for taking any shortcuts you want.
Hand grinding spices with a mortar and pestle for 20 serves of curry all at once is faster than doing it on 10 individual occasions. But do you know what’s even faster? Using a jar of curry paste. But do use the jar of curry paste instead of the jar of curry sauce, because it’ll save you money and allow for more customisation.
By that same token, making your own dumpling wrappers from scratch is relatively quick and easy. Even easier, though, is heading down to your local Asian grocery store and buying two 1kg packets of pre-made wrappers. They taste the same, but one will cover your kitchen in flour and the other means you just need to prepare the filling the way you like it.
If you’re looking for an idea of what to make, here is my famous pasta sauce recipe. It’s loosely based on Bolognese sauce, but it’s so inauthentic that it’s probably best to just call it:
Delicious pasta sauce recipe
Note: I make an enormous quantity of sauce when I batch freeze. Change the amounts to suit your freezer space and taste. As long as you don’t burn or under season it, you really can’t screw it up.
- 2.5kg can of diced tomatoes
- 2 jars of passata tomato sauce (preferably with another jar or two, or a couple of other cans of diced tomatoes on hand in case you want to make it saucier) (You can also just add more diced tomatoes instead of passata, it’s up to you and whether you prefer a thicker texture)
- 1kg lean beef mince (can be changed out for lentils to make it vegan)
- 1.2kg drained canned lentils (can be changed out for more mince if you just want meat, but lentils are great for fibre and really cheap)
- 500g stuffed green olives (I prefer Three Threes brand, because it nicely balances flavour with price)
- 500g pitted kalamata olives (you can chop up all the olives into halves or thirds, or leave them whole, depending on how much effort you feel like and your attitude towards olives)
- 1.5kg onions roughly diced
- 1-2kg carrots roughly diced
- 3 capsicums in the colour of your choice, roughly diced
- 2-4 tablespoons of minced garlic, or 2 fresh roughly chopped corms of garlic
- 1 teaspoon chilli flakes or a couple of fresh chillis
- 1 tablespoon course ground pepper
- A pinch of cinnamon
- A bunch of fresh basil leaves or at least 1 tablespoon of dried basil
- Some oregano
- Some leftover red wine, if you’ve got it
- A lot of extra virgin olive oil
- Enough pasta to have only with your meal that night (do not make extra to freeze, but you can make extra to have for lunch or dinner the next day and put it with some sauce in a microwave-safe bowl covered in the fridge)
- Shaved parmesan to serve (not required if you want it to be vegan or lactose free)
- 1-2 cups of frozen peas to serve with your meal today (do not freeze with peas in the sauce, peas are much better fresh microwaved on the day) (you do not have to add peas, I just really like them)
Method to make the sauce:
- Put the onions in the biggest pot you’ve got (at least 10L for this recipe, but adjust the recipe for your pot) and cover them with extra virgin olive oil. Let simmer until soft.
- Add in the garlic and beef, and stir until mixed, breaking up the lumps as you go. Lightly cook until beef is brown.
- Add everything else except for the peas and pasta. Stir well and let simmer covered for a minimum of 20 minutes, but anywhere up to about 4 hours if you want some slow cooked goodness. Just make sure you stir every five minutes or so and don’t let it boil, or have anything stick to the bottom. At first it’ll look like there’s too many vegetables and not enough sauce, but everything will cook down a bit soon and it’ll get saucier.
- After 20 minutes, if it’s still not saucy enough for your liking, add more diced tomatoes or passata and cook for a minimum of 10 more minutes (but again, this thing can go for ages as long as you keep stirring it and keep the heat low enough). This is also a good time to taste the sauce and make sure it’s spiced the way you enjoy. Add more minced garlic, chilli flakes, basil or pepper to taste. This is all down to personal taste, so just go nuts.
- 10 minutes before you want to serve tonight’s dinner, put on the dried pasta to cook in some boiling water. You can add salt to the water if you really want to (you don’t have to), but don’t add oil because it’ll just stop the sauce sticking to the pasta.
- 2 minutes and 22 seconds before it’s time to serve, put the frozen peas in a microwave safe container in the microwave for 2:22. If only coking one cup or less, go for a straight 2:00 and then add on 11 seconds if it’s still not quite hot to the touch. Just make sure you don’t overcook the peas so they stay juicy.
To serve tonight’s dinner:
- Put roughly one cup of cooked pasta in a bowl and cover with sauce, then put some cheese and peas on top.
To batch freeze:
- Wait for the pot to cool down enough that you can touch the outside of the pot without yelping.
- Then ladle the sauce into freezer-and-microwave-safe containers in appropriate quantities for your meals. Using glass containers is better for microwaving, but whatever you have on hand and are comfortable with is fine. Make sure you leave 1cm or so of space at the top of the container for the sauce to expand as it freezes. You don’t want to be cleaning sauce overflow out of the bottom of your freezer for the next five years.
- Tetris the containers into your freezer.
When the time comes to defrost:
- It’s best if you put the container of sauce in the fridge the night before, then heat to serve at dinner time. But, if you forget, it really is fine to just blast the living beejebus out of it in the microwave when you want it.
- From frozen: Just microwave it in batches of 3:33, stirring in between, until it’s close to being ready, then microwave at 1:11 stirring between until it’s hot enough for your taste while you boil fresh pasta. (If it’s already defrosted in the fridge, skip the 3:33 and just go straight to the 1:11.)